By Band of Brothers actor Neal McDonough
I would do anything in the world for Buck Compton.
It was an absolute honor to portray him in Band of Brothers, and that’s an understatement. Buck never likes being called a hero, but that’s what he is to me. Not only did he serve his country well in the war, but he went on to do exemplary things in life. When you consider the scope of what he’s done—college sports star, paratrooper, detective, attorney, judge—if a person does just one of those things, you’d say it’s an accomplishment. Buck has done them all.
Personally I owe a lot to Buck. Portraying him marked my big break as an actor. Also, I would never have met my wife, Ruvé Robertson, with whom I have two wonderful children, Morgan and Catherine, if it hadn’t been for Buck. My life is exceedingly blessed today, and Buck has played a large role in that.
To explain: before I did Band of Brothers, I had been acting in professional roles for about a decade but hadn’t done anything major, just independent films and smaller roles on TV. In early 2000, I decided to move from Hollywood back to Cape Cod, MA, where I grew up. It was a time of reevaluating my career. Maybe it was time to give up my dream. My parents were motel operators. Maybe I should take up that.
A friend of mine called me to audition for Band of Brothers. Initially, I auditioned for a much smaller part than the role of Buck Compton—I don’t even remember what it was. Tom Hanks read with me and immediately diffused any nervousness I was feeling. Tom asked me to come back the next day and read for the role of Buck. Two months later I received the call of a lifetime. The first thing I did was phone my dad to tell him the good news: “I got Band of Brothers.”
I wanted to meet Buck in person, so I flew up to Washington State where he lives. I arrived in the morning and called Buck. He offered to meet in a restaurant for breakfast. He had already eaten, he said, but he’d have another. I had never seen a picture of him, yet when he walked into the restaurant, instantly I knew it was him. He shook hands with me with these huge hands of his, just the size of canned hams, and ordered a five-egg omelet, his appetite for breakfast reflective of his appetite for life.
We talked for some time. Buck’s a real straight shooter. Over and over again, he said he just did his job. Nowadays, my goodness, people celebrate mediocrity to death—any little accomplishment is met with huge self-applause. People always want to be noticed for any above-average act. Yet Buck excelled in every way and shrugged off his accomplishments like they were no big deal. Buck never says, hey look at me. If you do something great, that doesn’t mean you’re great—that’s one thing I take from Buck. Any time I start touting my own horn, I can literally feel Buck at my shoulder saying: “What are you doing?”
A few months after I met Buck I flew over to London to start filming Band of Brothers. Two friends came with me. The first day we were out at a pub and I noticed an incredibly beautiful South African woman. She stood 6’3” tall and wore this black leather coat from head to heels. I couldn’t even speak. She was doing PR for various clubs and just happened to be working the door for guest lists. All I could say was, “You’re so tall.” All she said was, “And you’re American.” We talked for awhile, but the next day I was off to boot camp. Two weeks later an administrative assistant tracked her down for me. Ruvé and I have been together ever since.
About three days into our training, which was quite arduous, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg arrived. Tom gave this amazing speech about why we owe it to these guys to give it our all. We didn’t want to let Steven and Tom down, but we certainly didn’t want to let down the veterans we were portraying. We owed it to those guys to do it right.
During the filming, I phoned Buck a bunch of times. I probably drove him nuts with all my questions: How did you wear your hat, to the left or right? Which gun did you favor? What guys would you hang out with? Buck was so helpful on lots of stuff.
When I was in boot camp, one of the guys had a machine gun and slapped me by mistake in the face, chipping three of my teeth. Blood was gushing down my chin, but, still in character, I didn’t want to let on how much pain I was in. So I finished the exercise. Doc Roe came over, the actor, took a thread and needle, and sewed me up. He wasn’t a real medic, mind you, but we all wanted to stay true to our roles. After two or three days the cut was festering, not looking so good, so I went to the hospital still dressed in my fatigues. “What’s your name?” the doctor asked.
“Lt. Lynn Buck Compton,” I answered. It was the first thing that came to mind.
Here’s an example of Buck’s humility. After Band of Brothers came out, we were featured in People magazine, so Ruvé and I flew up to Washington to get some pictures taken with Buck. The journalists asked Buck if they could see his medals. Buck’s daughter was with him when they asked this, and she was like, “What medals are they talking about, Dad?” Buck sort of hemmed and hawed and rummaged around in his attic for them. He had never showed his daughter his medals. With Buck, it’s never about the awards you get in life; it’s about doing the right thing. That’s the prize in itself.
I’m thankful to Buck for the career advancement his portrayal brought me. Being in Band of Brothers brought me in close contact with Steven Spielberg for the first time. All of us got along great with him. When Band of Brothers was nominated for the Golden Globes, all of us “soldiers” were downstairs in the theater. We made a pact that if Band of Brothers won, we’d rush the stage when Tom and Steven were on it. The bouncers let us in just as the announcement was being made that Band of Brothers had won. So we all ran onto the stage. Tom and Steven laughed right along with us. Shortly after that, Steven called me to do Minority Report, then Boomtown, then I got Flags of Our Fathers. I’ve never stopped working since Band of Brothers. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. Buck and I have a running joke that our careers are parallel, his in real life, mine on film. After I portrayed him as a soldier in Band of Brothers, I played a detective in Minority Report, then a district attorney in Boomtown. The joke is that I’m going to play a judge next.
I’ve been asked to speak in public about Buck on several occasions. I do so willingly, but I always find it a bit emotional. It’s hard to speak about Buck without getting tears in my eyes; he’s such an amazing person. There’s been some talk about opening a justice hall with Buck’s name on it. I think that’s a great idea, and hope it happens. For all he’s done for our country, the least we can do is put his name on a building. A few months ago I presented a lifetime achievement award to Buck on behalf of the Adventurers Club in LA. I was happy to do so. My only thought was that they could never make a big enough lifetime achievement award for Buck.
He’s an amazing man, although he’d never say it himself. So I’ll say it here for him. Buck Compton—you’re an admirable person. I’m honored to know you. And to say you’re my friend, that’s the best part of all.